18th Jan, 2004

Epiphany 2

The Second Sunday after Epiphany
8am Low Mass, 10.30am High Mass

Isa 62: 1-5 God sings to His people
I Cor 12: 1-11 spiritual gifts
St John 2: 1-11 the wedding at Cana

I sometimes worry about religion in general, I worry about the Christian community a little bit more and I worry about the Communion of all Christians who look to the See of Canterbury for unity and order the most of all- Anglicans or Episcopalians, I mean!

As Anglicans and Episcopalians we are, at our best, models of orderliness and fair-play; we tend not to rant and rave, we bend over backwards to allow the other point of view to be heard and appreciated. In our faith, theological thinking, worship and day to day polity we appeal, as Anglicans, not just to one single source of authority (like the Pope or a written code or canon law) but we always look for a balanced and harmonious combination of reason, Holy Scripture and long Christian tradition; refined through all the human senses and responses. The life of the Christian faith isn’t viewed as an abstruse substance that is simply siphoned off and passed down from generation to generation. Christian faith develops, unfolds and matures with the character and vintage of the people who live and tell their stories in the community of the Body of Christ, the community of faith. Not unlike our Church architecture, to some it may appear outdated and somewhat anachronistic, hopelessly stagnant and outmoded- but when it is used and lived and ‘breathed’ by God’s people it has the potential for a dynamic encounter with the Living God.

‘Christ the Hospitable Lord’ of our High Altar is not there by accident. He came at a time of despair and grief to comfort the afflicted and welcome all who enter this place as the wounded healer who has been where we are and knows our every weakness, frailty and fragility.

As well-balanced Anglicans we are properly cautious today of those people who are swept along into faith, those who claim conversion by some cataclysmic experience- we remember the caution with which the newly-converted St Paul was greeted by his contemporary Christian community. Here was a deeply committed individual who had persecuted the first followers of Christ and had even held the coats of those who stoned to death St Stephen and he quite literally ‘sees the light’ on the Damascus road, but the Christian community is wary of him. Rightly so, all his life St Paul could be awkward, eccentric, gifted, highly talented and infuriating and argumentative. We prefer the well tested, the familiar.

That’s the real concern I have for the Church today- we are so darned tolerant and ready to listen and to let the other person grow (understanding them and nurturing them in their faith and their doubt and their questioning) we are so darned gentle we can be overshadowed by the loud and the belligerent, by the raucous and shrill, those glossy images presented to the world by the more strident and cock-sure- and they’re sometimes called ‘committed Christians.’ I suppose I’ve seen some of those extremes in my own life- the Strict and Particular Calvinistic Baptists of the South Wales Valleys- the aristocratic, ultra-Catholic, would-be Brideshead-types of Cambridge in the 1980’s. I think, perhaps, those extremes are about ‘strong’ religion, a religion which tells us that we must do x or y or z- but a religion very far removed from ordinary, everyday life. A handbook on Church needlework published in London in the 1950’s contained the rather remarkable comment:
“the length of the lavabo towel should be 12 inches for Roman Catholics and 18 inches for Anglicans” it inspired RJ Forrest to write his poem beginning;
“O filthy, dirty Anglican
Needing the larger towel…”

It is no longer the 1950’s when the length of the lavabo towel is a serious and weighty matter of one’s eternal salvation- but perhaps the point is that we do need to become more aware of the new commandment of Christ that we should love one another as he loved us, perhaps we should learn the need for the larger towel and all that goes with it- not self-satisfied pride: “oh, look, my towel is so much bigger than yours!”- but that this is what a serving community of faith is all about… being prepared to cleanse one another, serve one another, see the grace and love of Christ at work in one another. It is usually meant to work that way around- occasionally, of course, God will surprise us and grasp us and take a hold of us and then the realization may dawn on our minds that no lavabo towel is quite adequate unless it be God himself who washes and cleanses and graces us.

That is something that takes humility. It’s a physical impossibility, for example, for me to do everything that I am called to do in this place. We need another full-time priest. That’s not some kind of complicated theological point- that’s simple, bare bones, down-to-earth commonsense. If we wish to grow and accomplish the tasks that we have set before us we need more commitment and another full-time priest!

Too often we forget that we have been given the new wine of God’s presence, the miracle of patience and understanding. Sometimes we prefer to hurt each other rather than treating each other as the visible and present face of God in the here and now- we so easily hurt and damage each other and hurt ourselves in the process- that could be heartbreaking and tragic if it wasn’t also so laughable. Please don’t think I’m being frivolous- but we do tend to take ourselves too seriously when it comes to the trivia and minutiae of what WE want for ourselves: a sense of humour and the true worth of the miracle sitting next to you- the miracle sitting next to you that we recognize as our neighbour- knowing that person is the first step towards becoming the serving and healing community that Christ calls us to be.

You are Christians!
Ten your Lord is one and the same
With Jesus on the throne of His glory,
With Jesus in His Blessed Sacrament,
With Jesus received into your hearts in Communion,
With Jesus who is mystically with you as you pray,
And with Jesus enshrined in the hearts and bodies of His brothers and sisters up and down the world.

Now go out into the highways and hedges,
And look for Jesus in the ragged and naked,
In the oppressed and sweated,
In those who have lost hope,
And in those who are struggling to make good.
Look for Jesus in them:
And when you find Him,
Gird yourselves with His towel of fellowship,
And wash His feet in the person of His brethren.
The Right Reverend Frank Weston, 1871-1924, Bishop of the Diocese of Zanzibar, Africa.



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